Han dynasty

Empress Yin and Deng Sui (Empress Hexi)

Empress Yin (陰皇后, personal name unknown) (80 –c.August 102 CE) was an empress during the Eastern Han Dynasty. She was Emperor He’s first wife. Deng Sui (鄧綏; 81 – 17 April 121), formally Empress Hexi (和熹皇后; lit. ‘moderate and pacifying empress’), was regent of the Eastern Han dynasty from 106 to 121, serving as empress dowager during the reigns of Emperor Shang and Emperor An.

Deng Sui (Empress Hexi) ‘s Story

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Empress Yin (陰皇后, personal name unknown) (80 –c.August 102 CE) was an empress during the Eastern Han Dynasty. She was Emperor He’s first wife.

She was the daughter of Yin Gang (陰綱), a grandson of Emperor Guangwu’s wife Empress Yin Lihua‘s brother Yin Shi (陰識). She became an imperial consort in 92 and quickly became a favorite of Emperor He. She was described as beautiful but short and clumsy, and often unable to carry out the ceremonies that empresses are to perform with physical grace. She was also described as arrogant due to her noble heritage.

On 31 March 96, Emperor He made her empress. In 97, he gave her father, Yin Gang, the title of the Marquess of Wufang.

As the years went by, Empress Yin began to lose Emperor He’s favor, particularly because she was jealous of another favorite of his, Consort Deng Sui, who came from a noble lineage herself (She was the granddaughter of Emperor Guangwu’s prime minister Deng Yu). Compared to Empress Yin’s arrogance, Consort Deng was described as humble and always trying to maintain peaceful relations with other consorts and ladies in waiting. She, concerned that Emperor He was continually losing sons at a young age, often would recommend other consorts for Emperor He to have sexual relations with, while Empress Yin did not. She, therefore, became more and more popular.

Once, when Emperor He was ill, Empress Yin made the remark that if she became empress dowager, the Dengs would be slaughtered—and upon hearing that remark, Consort Deng considered committing suicide, and one of her ladies in waiting saved her by falsely telling her that the emperor had recovered. However, the emperor did soon recover, so Consort Deng and her family escaped a terrible fate.

In 102, Empress Yin and her grandmother, Deng Zhu (鄧朱), were accused of using witchcraft to curse imperial consorts (probably including Consort Deng). Lady Deng and her sons, as well as Empress Yin’s brother Yin Fu (陰輔), died under interrogation and torture. Empress Yin was deposed on 24 July, and her father Yin Gang (陰綱) committed suicide. The rest of her family was exiled. She herself died later that year. After she was deposed, Consort Deng was created empress to replace her.

In 110, Deng Sui (now Empress Dowager) allowed the Yin family and relatives to return home, giving back to them all the confiscated wealth and 500 teals of silver as compensation.

Their Spouse

Emperor He of Han 漢和帝; pinyin: Hàn Hé Dì; Wade–Giles: Han Ho-ti; 79 – 13 February 106) was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty who ruled from 88 to 106. He was the 4th emperor of the Eastern Han.

Emperor He was a son of Emperor Zhang. He ascended the throne at the age of nine and reigned for 17 years. It was during Emperor He’s reign that the Eastern Han began its decline. Strife between consort clans and eunuchs began when Empress Dowager Dou (Emperor He’s adoptive mother) made her own family members important government officials. Her family was corrupt and intolerant of dissension. In 92, Emperor He was able to remedy the situation by removing the empress dowager’s brothers with the aid of the eunuch Zheng Zhong and his half-brother Liu Qing the Prince of Qinghe. This in turn created a precedent for eunuchs to be involved in important affairs of state. The trend would continue to escalate for the next century, contributing to the fall of the Han dynasty. Further, while Qiang revolts, spurred by corrupt and/or oppressive Han officials, started during his father Emperor Zhang’s reign, they began to create major problems for the Han during Emperor He’s reign and would last until the reign of Emperor Ling.

Emperor He himself appeared to be a kind and gentle man. However, he lacked his father’s and grandfather Emperor Ming’s acumen for governance and for judgment of character. Although Emperor He’s reign arguably began Han’s long decline, notable scientific progress was made during this period, including the invention of paper by the eunuch Cai Lun in 105.

About this Portrait

Chinese watercolor, on silk. The Chinese Empresses Collection
Painted by Xiang Li
75 x 36 inches

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